KARACHI - Pakistan needs a balanced cropping pattern to cut its import bill for food items like cooking oil and pulses which were the major agriculture produce import items.

"We are self-sufficient, rather net exporters of some crops including wheat, rice, red chili, and fruits and vegetables. But, we import a big quantity of cooking oil and pulses. We would have to establish a balance in our cropping pattern ," Federal Secretary for National Food Security and Research Fazal Abbas Mekan said while speaking at the National Chili Conference-2017 here on Monday.

The Federal and the provincial governments would have to come with various holistic and multi-pronged interventions including reducing the cost of production to support the farmers’ community for the increased yield per acre and better quality of agriculture produce.

He appreciated the initiatives and innovations by Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) to strengthen agriculture sector, which had a great potential. In coordination with PARC, a workshop of agriculture machinery and equipment would soon be set up at Bahawalpur or Hasulpur in Punjab. He also noted that United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Pakistan Mercantile Exchange (PMEX) had taken good steps to strengthen agriculture and its marketing network. This had developed strong partnership with farmers and helped increase the productivity.

The secretary emphasized the need for standardisation of agricultural produce as this would help provide stable market for farmers and good health for the consumers. The Ministry for Food Security, in collaboration with Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, was working on promoting standardisation of agricultural produce including red chili that would include setting up seed processing plants in the country , he said.

He said chili was an important crop of the country and its quality was recognised by the World Bank. Its export had suffered over last couple of years due to some phyto-sanitary barriers but after certain interventions by the federal government, the export had started taken off.

Fazal Abbas Mekan welcomed the suggestions given by Sindh Red Chilli Growers Association President Mian Muhammad Saleem and said his ministry would work together with the association. He underlined the need for more research in agricultural sector. He said retail buyers must be quality conscious to improve the whole supply chain of food items.

"Whole sellers would not be quality conscious until the retailers become quality conscious," he asserted. He assured full support of his ministry towards all positive interventions and innovative steps taken by any public or private sector organisation for improvement in agriculture farming and marketing. Sindh Agriculture and Food Secretary Sajid Jamal Abro appreciated the efforts of USAID for bringing modernisation in agriculture. The provincial government was also moving to provide latest technology to growers.

Pakistan Agricultural Research Council Chairman Dr Yousuf Zaffar said although agriculture was the provincial subject after 18th amendment yet PARC was extending its all possible support to the farmers in all provinces through its research and agro-technology inventions.

PARC had launched a 5-year research and development project in Umerkot, Tharparkar which would cost Rs 500 million, he said. He said Sindh is unique for producing chili and banana. PARC was making the best effort to promote tissue culture.

“We are also reviving coordinated research programme in Sindh,’ he added. He stressed on more interaction with USAID. USAID’s Deputy Mission Director Oghale Oddo said his organisation wanted to take more initiatives, in partnership with Sindh and Federal governments, for high yield of agriculture per acre including red chili crop and its better marketing.

He said Pakistan produced four percent of total chili in the world and there was a good room for growth. Chief Executive Officer of Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP) Inamullah Dharejo appreciated the proposals from the Red Chilli Growers Association president and assured that TDAP officials would sit with the representatives of chili growers to these in detail and form a better future strategy for increased export of this major cash crop .

The associations dealing in agriculture produce would have to develop mechanism for boost in agri-exports. He, however, expressed satisfaction that in last three months, the export of vegetables and fruits had witnessed 18 percent increase.